Outline of Colonialism in Africa
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Outline of Colonialism in Africa

Course Number: HIST 015, Spring 2009

College/University: UC Riverside

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COLONIALISM IN AFRICA I II III IV General Overview of Colonialism in Africa The Motives for Colonialism Africans Resistance The Legacy of Colonialism in Africa I General Overview of Colonialism in Africa At the high point of the colonial period in African history, between the 1880s and the 1920s, over 90% of African territory was divided up among the European colonial powers. Britain, France, Belgium, Spain...

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IN COLONIALISM AFRICA I II III IV General Overview of Colonialism in Africa The Motives for Colonialism Africans Resistance The Legacy of Colonialism in Africa I General Overview of Colonialism in Africa At the high point of the colonial period in African history, between the 1880s and the 1920s, over 90% of African territory was divided up among the European colonial powers. Britain, France, Belgium, Spain Portugal, Italy and Germany all claimed possession over parts of Africa. The colonial period in Africa history began just as the slave trade was coming to an end in the 1800s. Starting at this time, millions of European settlers went to live in Africa in, often displacing the African populations from their land by force, and then employing them as low paid workers. Millions of Africans died in the wars of conquest which the Europeans waged to gain control of African territories. During this period Africa lost all effective control over its own political and economic destiny, as European appointed governments ruled the continent and plundered its resources. Europeans articulated more complex racist theories to justify their occupation of the African continent. It was not until the 1950s that wars of independence emerged across the African continent to bring a definitive end to colonial rule. II The Motives for Colonialism in Africa In the late 1800s European monopolies looked for new markets in which to expand. For this purpose they coveted Africa. Rich in natural resources, abundant in land and militarily at a disadvantage with Europe, nations like Britain, France and Germany sought to make use of Africa in four important ways: 1. To have European armies conduct military invasions of African territories. 2. To have European companies take possession of important natural resources in Africa. 3. To have millions of Africans work for European companies in Africa at lower wages than could be paid in Europe. 4. To transfer millions of European settlers to Africa who would constitute a growing market for European goods. By these means the European imperialist nations intended to increase their economic clout by making long-term capital investments in Africa that would be sure to pay them back in abundance. In the late 1800s European explorers in Africa located large quantities of highly coveted raw materials, including copper, rubber, tin, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, silver and gold. Soon entire regions of Africa became the domains of individual European firms. For example, the De Beers Mining Company owned by the Englishman Cecil Rhodes took possession of the entire territory of present-day Zimbabwe and renamed it Rhodesia after Rhodes. Zimbabwe was extremely rich in diamonds, and De Beers became one of the richest companies in the world in the late 1800s establishing a monopoly in the diamond trade. By the time that Rhodes died in 1902, De Beers controlled 90% of the 1 worlds diamond trade. In 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium took personal control of the Congo Free State a vast territory in Western Africa rich in rubber, copper and other minerals. A harsh regime of slavery was instituted in King Leopolds Congo Free State, and all rebellions were met with brutally put down by the Belgian army. It is estimated the population of the Congo was reduced by half during the colonial period. Another motive for colonizing Africa was to move the poor and the unemployed out of Europe so as to avoid social conflict. Europeans going to Africa were promised (and often received) large amounts of farmland that was protected by European armies and abundant slaves from among the colonized peoples. A poor European could aspire to live like a king in Africa, this image succeeded in luring millions of Europeans to Africa. various The European colonizing nations held competing interests in Africa, therefore they frequently clashed with each other over control of different territories. The most common antagonism was between the British and the French. While the French held power of much of Western Africa, the British claimed power over a continuous stretch of land in Eastern Africa ranging from Egypt to South Africa. The British and the French would squabble over where ones territories ended and the others began in Central Africa. The British also came into conflict with Dutch settlers in South Africa, resulting in the Boer Wars of the 1880s and 90s. III Africans Resistance The colonial period (1880s to 1950s) saw persistent resistance by African populations against European colonialism. In 1895 Ethiopia succeeded in defeating the invading Italian army, thereby remaining one of the only independent states in Africa until 1935 (when the Italians reinvaded and occupied Ethiopia for seven years). In 1904 the Herero people in Namibia rose up under Samuel Maherero to fight against German colonialists. The Germans responded by issuing orders to kill all Herero people in the colony a declaration of genocide. Concentration camps were built and over half of the Herero population was eliminated. The most decisive moments of resistance to colonialism were to come in the 20th century. Wars of independence were fought in Algeria, Libya, Angola and the Congo. IV The Legacy of Colonialism in Africa The apologists of colonialism argued that the Europeans were bringing civilization to Africa but this was a ploy to cover how much Europe was actually taking out of Africa. Some minimal industrial infrastructure was built by the Europeans in Africa, but this only accounts for a small fraction of the wealth that was drained from the continent during the colonial period. Traditional African societies were often turned upside down by the impact of the European colonists with land being taken and hostile colonial officials being put in charge of populations with whom they were not familiar. The Nigerian author Chinua Achebes 1958 novel Things Fall Apart recounts the story of a West African villages traumatic contact with colonialism. 2 The bottom line of colonialism for Africa is that it was robbed of vast amounts of its resources and deprived of the right to direct its own political and economic affairs for over seventy years. Colonialism created lasting economic structures that impaired Africas ability to develop economically after independence. The colonial economy had favored the exportation of raw materials from Africa and the importation of finished products from Europe. This meant that Africa was left with very little industry by the end of colonialism, and therefore forced to rely more on agriculture. Colonialism also tended to divide African populations against themselves. A small number of Africans were appointed to positions of authority by the colonial administrators, and in return for their privileges they contributed to the violent suppression of the rest of the African population. In some cases it was these colonial lackeys who inherited the reigns of government after the official end of colonialism in the mid 20th century. Bibliography Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books, New York, 1997. Amin, Samir. The Class Struggle in Africa. Africa Research Group, Cambridge, Mass., no date. Braudel, Fernand. Africa in A History of Civilizations. Penguin Books, New York, 1993. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press, New York, 2004. Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Empire: 1875 1914. Vintage Books, New York, 1987. Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Howard University Press, Washington D. C., 1980. 3

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